Hat Head

sctmrk.jpg Now that winter is finally here, us Mainers submit to the series of winter indignities and inconveniences that, (or so we insist to our friends who enjoy the winter in Vero Beach) “build character”. Shoveling snow, dressing and undressing endlessly, making love under the covers, brushing and scraping the car – or, as I was with friend John yesterday, cranking up the generator to make sure it still works after a summer’s idleness, as ever-heavier ice accumulates on the power lines outside.

Among the indignities we suffer with Puritan patience is nearly permanent ‘hat head’ – unruly hair crimped into unflattering configurations by long hours in skull-hugging woolen chapeaux. We northerners just give up on our coiffure for these months, accepting with resigned good humor the tufts, wings, sprigs, Mohawks, and bell curves that emerge as we elaborately undress once again in whatever serves as a foyer.

Myself, I have never favored hats. I never wear one in public if I can avoid it; the feeling of my churning brain being belted in just never felt right – the way some people feel about watches around the wrist, belts around their middle, or ties around ther neck. I did find one leather fedora in Taos – I call it my Indiana Jones hat – that is big enough for my large cranium; I use it when there’s a warm rain.

But in this cold and wind, the tips of the ears require coverage, so I don the usual ski hat, chosen carefully for lack of head-squeeze, but still capable of turning my straight Dutch-boy hair into a haloed swirl of keratinized protein.

The trouble is, I am going bald. I am 57, and both my brothers were well-thinned by this age, so I have had a good run based on my genetics. But now when I stand under the lamp after a shower, far too much of my scalp is visible under what’s left of the forelock I have taken for granted lo, these many years.

Going bald is an irreversible sign of decay. One can insist to oneself that a diet-and-exercise regime could take off those extra accumulating pounds, and that working out would bring back that youthful muscle tone, but losing hair is a humiliating and definitive sign that one is in the second half of one’s life.

What to do? I am not about to start applying nostrums from AM radio to my head, nor are toupees, transplants, extensions, or even comb-overs in my future. I imagine I can keep the illusion going for a while with clever arranging (as David Brooks did on public television, until the empty real estate expanded into the camera’s view), but sooner or later the facts must be faced.

As I look around, i favor the short-haired look some of my friends affect – if you can see the scalp all over, the fact that it is very visible on top makes less difference. Going back to a crew cut – my grade school do – will not be easy for this old hippie, but it beats the alternatives.

Otherwise, againg is pleasant. So much less worry, angst, ambition and desperation these days. So much more ease, calm, resilience, and yes, even wisdom. Sure, I feel 18 inside – how did this intervening 4 decade hiatus happen? But with the love of a good woman, a secure home, and useful work to do, I am content to, as my mother says, ‘deteriorate on schedule’.

Quan rushes after youth with endless programs of supplements or machines, all designed to roll back the clock in the name of health. I follow what she suggests, as a matter of interest, but in fact maintaining my vitality is all that matters to me, once the next embarrassment – would you read that fine print for me? – has been accepted. Denying all of life’s pleasures in a fight with the spiritual realities of DNA, and the rest of the natural order of death and rebirth seems to me a quixotic venture, doomed to failure – and worse, worthy of ridicule.

“You’re as young as you feel” works well when you’re by yourself, but step into society and you are as young as you look. Billion dollar industries attest to this sad fact. One observes the smoothly frozen expression of Botox or the wrinkle-free parchment of plastic surgery with amusement and detachment, but not with envy.

So, unlike Gunther Van Hagens or Captain Kangaroo, I will not be wearing a permanent hat. I will wear my emerging cranium proudly, seeing in it the shape of my skull, my death to come – which I hope I will have the presence of mind to accept happily when it comes.

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